Full Bottom Undies And Flat Bottom Shoes. Purposeful Products Can ‘Save’ Gap & J. Crew
Posted on June 22, 2015
Women are asking for their clothes to work for them. Historically it has been the other way around.
Recently, there have been a series of noteworthy stories on women’s clothing trends. When ‘J. Crew Struggles With Its Great Man Dilemma’ (about J. Crew’s recent struggles), ‘Young Women Say No to Thongs‘ (about the millennial trend of wearing granny panties instead of thongs), or ‘Shoes That Put Women In Their Place’ (about the Cannes dress code of heels) are read individually, one can see the political nature, the sexual nature and the simple visual nature of the products women have historically chosen to wear. But when read in conjunction, a theme appears. These articles demonstrate how women are becoming less comfortable with ‘the role’ their garments are asking them to perform. The parallel that bridges the ’thong’, the ’heel’ and the ‘basic’ is bigger than a trend. It’s a change in lifestyle. Women want purposeful products. And the purpose these products must serve is shifting from performative to functional.
A product is purposeful when form is just as important as function. For example, a successful men’s undergarment must fit well, be comfortable, durable and above all else, it must not ride. The purpose of a man’s boxer, brief or boxer-brief is served by how comfortably it can provide a protective barrier. But when you look at a woman’s undergarment, its historic must list includes delicate femininity and seamlessness. These characteristics show that the purpose of a woman’s panty is to remain unseen until desired. Forget about comfort or a protective barrier.
That’s why I don’t believe ‘Young Women Say No To Thongs‘ is “motivated by some sort of contrarianism”, as author Hayley Phelan suggested. It is my belief that the granny panty trend is motivated by a woman’s desire to wear products that offer a physical function instead of a performative one.
Cannes film festival recently discovered the wrath of a new age of women that supposedly value function over form. As Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of ‘Shoes That Put Women in Their Place’ noted “The heel has come to be the icon of feminine allure and even female power.” The heel historically represented a sense of power that women are now achieving in the workplace. Could it be, that as women continue to crack through the glass ceiling, they may find that their heels restrict the valuable work they’re doing? And if this is the case, what would a more versatile yet fashionable woman’s shoe look like?
Jill Fields, author of ‘An Intimate Affair‘ noted “the thong has been in decline for a little while, and parallels the declining popularity of the stiletto, except for special occasions.” A stiletto is not a multipurpose shoe. It does not serve any function other than to elongate the long line of a leg that is not to be broken up by an underwear line. One must consider that a shoe was originally intended to protect the foot. But why, when a stiletto can cause painful problems like plantar fasciitis, can lead to falls, and can slow the wearer down is it considered required dress code?
J. Crew Struggles With Its Great Man Dilemma explains that J. Crew has strayed from basics over the past few years in a calculated attempt to reach a more fashionably sophisticated customer. This move quickly alienated their famously loyal customer base who made their opinion known with their voices and their wallets. So J. Crew is backtracking, attempting to literally and figuratively ‘get back to basics’. This begs the question ‘what is a basic’? A basic is a clothing fundamental. It’s something that fills a hole in one’s wardrobe. Socks, underwear, t-shirts, jeans are all basics. But it is interesting to compare how basics are marketed differently to men and women. J. Crew describes their women’s Perfect-Fit Tee as “Our superfine baby-rib cotton, cut a bit slimmer for a flattering fit. That’s why we call it perfect.” By focusing on a ‘slimmer’ and ‘flattering fit’, J. Crew focuses its basics on how women will appear and how their bodies will perform in the garment. Their men’s Garment-Dyed Tee, on the other hand, has a description that doesn’t put focus on the wearer but how the product wears: “We’re pretty proud of these tees—they’re made in LA from garment-dyed cotton, which means each one will have a perfectly imperfect color and will softly fade over time, capturing the laid-back lifestyle of their California roots (where a T-shirt is practically a daily uniform).”
When a woman’s garment is made and marketed as a men’s garment, it invariably becomes more sustainable. And sustainability sells. A former J. Crew employee divulged to GQ that “while the men’s side is not without its issues, relatively speaking it is very much outperforming the women’s.” Mens garments are marketed as rugged and durable. They are branded using language that implies the garment will be worn in and worn out. And if a garment asks to be worn, it leaves less room for single wear products. When the product is only intended for one wear, durable construction becomes less necessary. This results in a more disposable product.
When a company makes products that meet physical needs and when they do so sustainably, they open themselves up to the reward of a loyal customer base. Gamine Workwear makes functional workwear jeans for women. Designed by Taylor Johnston, a horticulturist who was unable to find clothing to meet the demands of her work, these jeans naturally became a sustainable product that begs to be loved. Johnston struggles to keep these jeans in stock.
If met needs breeds loyal customers, retailers will begin to see the profitability of innovative solutions. Under Armour recently bought the patent for the one handed zipper. Under Armour realized that a product originally designed for amputees could benefit the population as a whole. Who hasn’t tried to zip their jacket when carrying groceries or a small child? Everyone will benefit from having a specific need met. And the one handed zipper isn’t alone. Check out MagnaReady’s magnetic button oxfords or Open Style Lab’s Rayn Jacket. These are all products that are designed around ingenious solutions. Inclusive products are going to influence the retail landscape. These products exemplify the design features that could set J. Crew apart. J. Crew’s loyal fanbase is aging. And they are waiting for J. Crew to find ways to meet their needs. I’m 33 years young, invested in fashion enough to write an opinion piece such as this, and I would proudly don every product described in this article (minus the thong and stiletto). Because I know functional is beautiful and it is the future.
The retail landscape is changing. Retailers are quick to tout the cyclical nature of fashion, feeling ‘this too shall pass’ but function isn’t a trend. I like to think of it in terms of dieting. Diets only last a few days. A life change is forever. And for the better. Women didn’t wear pants until they did. And pants are now a basic. That will never change. A month ago, heels were dress code at Cannes. Now they’re not. That will never change. And suddenly women are asking retailers to think more about their basic needs. And when it happens it will be here to stay.